- Make a bigger deal of natural, healthy, organic foods, wherever available, than is being made. There's a full on smoothie and juice bar in the Chinatown Walgreen's and no one's talking about it! That's a BIG deal, a nod to health I haven't seen in Duane Reade, CVS, or any other national pharmacy chain--DC media needs to celebrate it. Similarly, I'd heard that Gary Cha's Yes! Organic Market was pioneering a healthier assortment of fresh foods in DC neighborhoods that didn't have access, but after visiting a couple locations I left disappointed that the produce was limited, prepared foods were nil and no cues were given to customers about what to get excited about. A better story needs to be told on the store floor if Yes! is truly selling "all these cereals and breads that you don’t see in Giant", because I didn't notice them. If Cha's product is tastier than what we find at the grocery chain, healthier for the environment, or more unique, he needs to invest in signage that tells that story and a staff who understands how what they sell is special and is enthusiastic about communicating it.
- Large chains need to keep their DC locations up to speed with the globalized character of their audiences. Just like Furstenberg on his own Persian ingredient hunt, I went to Whole Foods, Yes!, and Giant in search of Sumac and left empty-handed. We live in an utter melting pot so stores should help us cook like it.
- Be a leader in combatting food waste. Did you know that about 3.25 billion pounds of food waste from supermarkets was sent to the landfill in 2008, and that's only climbing? It's our responsibility as the nation's capital to push retailers in our city to lead the charge on ground-breaking ways to minimize what they throw out. Retailers should create seamless programs whereby they either use bruised fruit and vegetables, meat nearing expiration, day old bread, and other unsellable but perfectly good food in their kitchens for prepared foods (like the folks at Bi-Rite), or partner seamlessly with local organizations to get it into the mouths of hungry residents.
OK now I'm going to get all yogic on ya. Ever wonder what our favorite Top Chef hostess's last name means? Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance in the Hindu tradition, reminding us of the "enoughness" in both our life and within ourselves. In this spirit, let's keep our attention on the places where the District is innovating and leading the way. There's more international flair in the sandwiches and love in the service at Sundevich, just a pop around the corner from where I live, than in any deli I've walked into in San Francisco. Way to go, all you businessmen in your slacks and collared shirts, sprawling out right on the Farragut Square grass to enjoy your food truck lunch--would not see that in Bryant park, NYC! And the vegan cafe Everlasting Life serves healthy dishes in the African American tradition like I've never tasted before; never before had tahini, blackstrap molasses, spirulina or brewer’s yeast made it into my smoothie, and I was blown away.
My point here is that just as in New York, San Francisco or any other city where one goes in search of the food they consider "good", there are discoveries and appreciation to be had. I look forward to working with retailers and food makers in the District to make sure what they're putting out for us is picked up by (judging from rebuttals to Furstenberg's article like this in City Paper and this in Huff Po), a vast hungry audience.